Clause 1 - Form in which registers are to be kept

Part of Registers of Births and Deaths Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:25 am on 27th January 2021.

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Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Conservative, Sutton Coldfield 9:25 am, 27th January 2021

The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point. There is no doubt an overwhelming benefit for our constituents to be able to do this online, but there are provisions for checking and following up on fraud. I shall come to some of them during my remarks.

I have completed the detailed coverage of clause 3, so I turn to clause 4, which covers the treatment of the existing registers of births, stillbirths and deaths records. Currently, under section 28 of the Act, registrars are required to keep safely all registers of live births, stillbirths and deaths in their custody. When not in use, they must keep the registers securely in the register box provided by the Registrar General.

When a registrar fills the register of births or deaths, the registrar must deliver it to the superintendent registrar. The register is then kept in perpetuity, with the records of the office. It is from these paper registers that all certified copies, for example birth and death certificates, are issued. This will continue to be the case in the future. When a register of stillbirths is filled, the registrar delivers it to the superintendent registrar, who forwards it to the Registrar General to keep in the General Register Office, from which all requests for certified copies are issued.

The registrar provides the superintendent registrar with copies of all the birth and death registrations, known as quarterly returns. The superintendent registrar certifies them as true copies of the entries in the registers and forwards them to the Registrar General. These are kept at the General Register Office to create a national record of all births and deaths. These returns used to be paper-based and completed quarterly, but with the introduction of the electronic register in 2009, these returns are now done electronically within seven days. As we discussed earlier, sections 26, 27 and 28 are repealed by clause 1, as the process of quarterly returns and the custody of paper registers will no longer be required with the move to an electronic system.

Clause 4(1)(a) specifies that the repeal of section 28 of the Act does not affect the existing requirement under section 28(2) for every superintendent registrar to continue to keep any registers of live births or deaths in their custody with the records of the office immediately before the repeal comes into force.

Clause 4(1)(b) specifies that the repeal of section 28 of the Act does not affect the existing requirement under section 28(4) for the Registrar General to continue to keep any certified copies that he has received under section 27 in the possession of the Registrar General, and any registers of stillbirths forwarded to the Registrar General before the coming into force of the repeal.

Subsection (2) requires all registrars to send any unfilled paper registers of births and deaths in their possession to the superintendent registrar to be kept with the records of the office. In the case of stillbirths, subsection (3) of the clause requires all registrars to send any unfilled paper registers of stillbirths in their possession to the Registrar General, who will keep them at the General Register Office in such order and manner as he or she thinks fit.

Subsection (4) allows the Registrar General to dispose of any certified copies of stillbirth entries in any register of stillbirths, as the Registrar General will also hold the completed paper registers of stillbirths. Subsection (4) also allows the Registrar General to dispose of any paper stillbirth records that are held in electronic format by virtue of section 27 of the 1953 Act.

Since 1 July 2009, registrations of births and deaths have been held in both paper and electronic format. The Bill removes the requirement for birth and death entries to be held in paper format, removing the duplication in the process.

Subsection (5) specifies how copies of birth and death records that have been held in a format other than hard copy paper form, such as electronically, are to be treated on and after the day on which clause 1 of the Bill comes into force. Subsection (5)(a) provides that those copies of birth and death registers held in electronic form are to be treated as the register for the sub-district on and after the day that clause 1 of the Bill comes into force.

Subsection 5(b) provides that where a copy of a register of births or register of deaths was kept otherwise than in a hard copy form during the period of 1 July 2009 until immediately before the day that clause 1 comes into force, the register is to be treated for the purposes of section 25(3) of the Act as being kept in the form in which the copy was kept—for example, in electronic form.

Subsection (5)(c) provides that any entry in the register signed by a person before clause 1 comes into force is to continue to be regarded as having been signed by the person for the purposes of the Act. Subsection (5)(d) allows the Registrar General to dispose of any certified copies of births and deaths received under section 27 of the Act, and any information contained in those entries that is kept in electronic form. This will negate the need for the Registrar General to hold entries of births and deaths in both paper and electronic form. Subsection (6) outlines the period previously mentioned in subsection (5) as beginning on 1 July 2009 and ending immediately before the day clause 1 comes into force.

Clause 5 introduces the schedule, which contains minor and consequential amendments to primary legislation as a consequence of the move from paper registers to the registration of births and deaths in an electronic register. It includes amendments to the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953, the Registration Service Act 1953, and minor amendments to other Acts.

Clause 6 delegates to the Secretary of State the power to make further consequential provisions by regulations on any provision of the Bill. Regulations that amend, repeal or revoke any provision of primary legislation must be made according to the affirmative procedure. Regulations that do not amend, repeal or revoke any provision of primary legislation are to be made according to the negative procedure. I am sure the Committee will agree that that gets the balance right in this case.

Clause 7 covers extent, commencement and short title. Clause 7(1) sets out that clauses 1 to 4 extend to England and Wales only, except as provided in any amendments or repeals set out in the schedule. The remaining clauses extend to England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The clause sets out the coming into force dates and the way in which the Bill may be cited.

That is a run-through of the granular details of what the Bill will do. I very much hope it will secure the approval of the Committee.